Motegi Castroneves' 100th IndyCar Series start
It's been a long journey from Phoenix to Motegi, Japan - seven years, in fact - for Helio Castroneves, who seems surprised by the elapsed time. When you're having fun at your job, weeks and months pass quickly.
The Indy Japan 300 will be Castroneves' 100th IndyCar Series start - a milestone reached previously by Scott Sharp (146) and Sam Hornish Jr. (116). Give Buddy Lazier a ride in the 92nd Indianapolis 500 and he'll join the group, too.
"I never count, but it's an honor to be in this competition because it means whatever I'm doing must be right," the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner said. "Hopefully, we'll do a hundred more."
Hmm, the remainder of this season's schedule and average 19 races a year … it's doable. Castroneves, who turns 33 on May 10, finished 18th in his first start at Phoenix International Raceway with Penske Racing on March 18, 2001. The next oval start made him an international sensation. Castroneves started 11th in the Indianapolis 500, led the final 52 laps and beat teammate Gil de Ferran to the checkers by 1.7373 seconds.
He repeated in 2002, becoming the first driver in 500-Mile Race history to win in each of his first two starts and the fifth (Al Unser in 1970-71 the most recent) to win in consecutive years. Castroneves also won the Phoenix prelude and finished runner-up in the championship standings as Penske Racing completed its first full season in the IndyCar Series.
"Every win is special," said Castroneves, who has 12 in the series. "The Indy 500 is probably remarkable because it is my first oval win in the series. I accepted the challenge to succeed when the series was all oval tracks. Now the series has changed to road courses as well, which is great. So for me every win is great and I'm very happy to be a part of the IndyCar Series."
Twenty-three pole starts, including a record-seven last season, complement the victories and a remarkable 75 top-10 finishes overall. Now it's on to Twin Ring Motegi, where he reigned in 2006 after leading 186 of the 200 laps in the No. 3 Team Penske machine.
"Hopefully, we'll make that 100th race special," he said. "I won there once and it would be great to celebrate the 100th race winning again, so I'm looking forward to going to that race." IndyCar.com